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Photograph by Suzanne Daly
DIY CULTURE: Community is emphasized at Community Bikes.

Pedal to the Mettle

Community Bikes tackles zero emissions one rider at a time

By Suzanne Daly

Community Bikes resides in a forlorn, residential neighborhood on the edge of Roseland comprised of small, old-fashioned bungalow-style houses with falling-down fences, fading Christmas decorations and dried cornfields for front yards. The funky, bright blue-and-white stucco building sports a large bulletin board out front displaying bike-related announcements. "We refurbish donated bikes . . . we are a volunteer-run shop comprised of folks who love bikes and cycling. YOU CAN BE PART OF IT," reads a prominent notice.

And on a wet Thursday evening, the place is a hive of activity. On one side of the small shop, over 50 bikes in different stages of restoration stand on the hastily tiled floor; a cluttered but well-organized shop space occupies the other half. Back-to-back work benches filled with tools are on the oil-stained carpet, while labeled, multicolored bins holding a plethora of bike parts line the walls.

Tonight, most likely because of the weather, there are eight volunteers helping four customers. They all sport a similar look: grungy, no-nonsense guys dressed in warm layers of work clothes, caps and worn boots. There are two volunteers helping customers repair their own bikes, two fixing up bikes for sale, two tweaking a customer's purchase, one selling a tire and one guy working in trade for a bike ("I know what I'm doing," he says assuredly). In the next hour, the occupants will ebb and flow, as needs are met and bikes are purchased or repaired. The atmosphere is busy yet peaceful, with a certain sense of satisfaction in the air.

Community Bikes was conceived in 2000, when Sammy Nasr and his friend Portia Sinnott began carpooling to work as a way to lighten their own carbon footprint. Five years later, still concerned about energy and resource conservation, they started the Car-Lite nonprofit as a support for people who wanted to cut back on driving. As interest and involvement grew, the group began putting on events to encourage people to bike, walk or use public transportation. "We decided we should put our money where our mouths were, and developed this space where we could fix up and reuse bikes that were otherwise going to be dumped or scrapped," Nasr explains. "We collect donated or unused bikes from the police department and the city. Volunteers refurbish them and teach customers how to work on their own bikes."

Nasr emphasizes that the shop will not repair the bike for you, but will provide tools and assistance at a nominal fee. "You can also work to earn a bike," he adds. "Then we sell the bikes or give them away to agencies or individuals who need them." Nasr laughingly admits that he wasn't heavily involved in cycling before starting this service. "I didn't really bike much until we got the shop. I'm the exception, though. All the volunteers are bike aficionados and really know what they're doing. We do a good job getting people interested in biking," he adds. "They feel safer and more confident on a bike and like riding better. It makes for one less car on the road and bikes are zero-emission vehicles."

The nonprofit recently rented the building next door and established it as Synergy Space, the storefront for those bikes that are ready for sale. The space is also used as a multipurpose room for events, workshops, classes and parties, complete with racks of bikes as decoration. They even have a game night on the same schedule as safety, fix-it and greening classes. It is also available for rent to the local community to help the nonprofit defray its costs.

Arturo, a twenty-something SRJC student, and his girlfriend, Kyndra, come into the shop to pick up the refurbished silver road bike he has purchased. His bike from Target broke, and rather than buying a new one, he came here. "I heard about them through word of mouth," he explains. "My friend bought a bike and volunteered here. Then the crankshaft on my bike just snapped. They just don't make things the way they used to. I found one that's much nicer for $90—that is so cheap!" Nicknaming his new wheels "the Silver Bullet," Arturo plans on riding home through the rain. "People look happier riding bikes," he says. "People in cars always look so frustrated. Here you can even do work and trade it for a bike.

"That's the coolest idea ever!"

  Community Bikes/Synergy Space, 4009–4019 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. Open Thursday, 5–9pm; Sunday, 1–5pm. Shop fee is $10 an hour plus parts. 707.579.5811.

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